Friday, May 27, 2011

So much for multitasking!

I've long held that the modern fad for 'multitasking' is invidious. I find that if I want to do something - anything - really well, I have to concentrate on it, to the exclusion of other things. Distractions, or trying to do other things at the same time, inevitably degrade the quality of my work towards my primary task, be it writing, or cooking, or whatever.

Now comes evidence that this applies to everyone.

Multitasking, conducting two unrelated tasks at the same time, causes errors that could cost you your job, say experts.

If you're writing a document while looking at a related spreadsheet, that doesn't fall under the umbrella of multitasking. But if you're bouncing between deciding on an issue while chatting with friends and reading the news, you're likely to compromise on each of those actions -- possibly without even realizing it.

. . .

You might think you're above being affected by multitasking. The truth is, you're not. That's just one of the many myths of multitasking; here are the top five.

Myth 1: Only Younger Workers Multitask

In a survey of 1000 professionals conducted by People-OnTheGo, a consultancy that helps companies overcome information overload, a majority of workers from all generations, excluding those 65 and older, said they interrupt work to check e-mail or Facebook more often than they'd like to or constantly.

. . .

Myth 2: Multitasking Increases Productivity

. . .

It takes time to reload short-term memory and determine where we were in the thought process when switching back and forth between tasks, says Khawand. "These are short spurts of low production," he says, "and we're only achieving a small five to 10% of the results we could be getting if we stayed focused."

Myth 3: Practice Makes Perfect

Clifford Nass, a communication professor at Stanford and author of The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, conducted research in 2009 on media multitaskers. The results of his study found that "the people who think they're good at multitasking are actually the worst at it, and the people who think they are bad at it are ironically better at it." And though it may seem counter-intuitive, he found that the more frequently people multitask, the worse they get at it -- and the less likely they are to even realize the mistakes they're making.

. . .

Myth 5: You Need to Be a Good Multitasker to Land a Job

"At some point in the interview process, most companies will ask if you can multitask," says Vaccaro, "but what they really should ask is if you can handle multiple priorities and projects."

Nass says that a skill employers should look for is the ability to know when multitasking isn't an option -- something that's swiftly becoming a rarity. "You should say that you know when to stop multitasking. That's an incredibly important skill," he says.

There's more at the link. Interesting and recommended reading.



trailbee said...

Hi, so, like, what happened to Myth #4? :)
Myth #3, Practice Makes Perfect only works when the practice IS perfect. Talk to musicians, but I'm sure you already know that.
I wonder whether this also includes reading more than one book at a time. I am reading six different books at present, not always in the same order, and hope this does NOT apply to me. If I thought I could get in more, I probably would do it. I'm also knitting three different items currently.
It's this retirement thing - there are so many things to read and do and lust after, maybe these things don't come under Multi-tasking (fingers x'd, hoping with a smile).
Thank you for debunking these myths, now I can stop vacuuming and doing laundry together. One thing at a time, one week here, another there. Works for me. :)

Anonymous said...

This is why banning hand-held cellphones in cars (in favour of hands-free systems) misses the point; the manual coordination to hold up a phone is trivial compared to the division of attention between the conversation and the road.